Catherine The Great and The Small by Olja Knežević.

Catherine The Great and The Small by Olja Knežević.

Croatian fiction

Original title – Katarina, Velika i Mala

Translators – Paula Gordon and Elien Elias-Bursac

Source = review copy

It has been a while since I have reviewed a book from Istros books well here I have one of a new series they have been publishing called On the margins. this is the second I will be doing a review of the first book soon. Olja Knežević studied creative writing at Birkbeck college was where she got an MA this book grew out of her dissertation for her MA.  She has lived in London, , California, Belgrade, and London. This was a bestseller when it came out.

I am Catherine the great, hiding away in small room

We have proclaimed this small room an office. English people calla room of this size a broom closet. the english people are spoiled, or so my husband and I say, even when they’re poor. Thats our attitude all year long right up to Christmas, when the bitter cold sets in. Then we marvel at them running around town in the howling wind, going about their buisness as usual, bald me without hoats, women wearing ballet flats without sock, everyone sleeveless, and againwe remember where we’ve come from a small mediterranean country where as soon as the north wind blows, no one goes outside, where everyone leaves work early – noon at latest – with the excuse of attending funerals and paying respects

The opening and the madness of us living her in the UK viewed by Katarina

We follow Katarina the main character in this book from the late seventies when she is a teen selling ice cream and trying to get by in the small country of Montenegro as it is now but then still part of Yugoslavia her home town was called Titograd after the great leader of Yugoslavia. What we see is her family life this is back up with the cracks that are appearing in the country. As she loses her mother her family is all in the same house as her grandmother is there as well. As she starts to blossom she starts a relationship starts Siniša with whom she loses her virginity. Her other friend Milica is wanting to break free of Titograd Katarina knows her mother as well she calls an Aunt. So When Milica goes there and studies Drama she also discovers Drugs in the Big city. So Katarina is found a job as a child Minder and studied to go Belgrade where she is sent to help and keep eye on her friend. She also dabbles this all happens as the homeland falls apart but this strong girl manages to get out and the latter part of the book catches her in London.

The year was 1988. July in Belgrade was intolerably hot; smell of dead dogs and cats, strays killed by the hear, and dried up insects, black and brown cockroaches. But the pressure was on for my finals. I had to be like a youing stoic and, with books as my only defence, resist desire – summer’s naked, sweaty, sexual desire- and grapple with my demons.

The summer in the big city as she starts to live away from her family

This is a great insight into the break up of Yugoslavia from a young female perspective the pressure of growing up as the world around you starts to tear its self apart it also is a personal view of those times one feels that a lot of this is the writers own life and loves from the western music they listen to to the places they live Titograd now in modern Montenegro called Podgorica the capital of that small country was where Olja was born she has also lived in Belgrade and Zagreb which gives her perspective on all sides of the war and she also lived in London. This is a great coming of age rale the ups and downs of being a female growing up and also of being a woman Katarina i n’t perfect and that is what drew me in / she is a flawed character. This is a perfect choice for women in Translation month. Have you read this or the other on the margins series book

3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Aug 14, 2020 @ 09:09:45

    It does sound good, Stu, onto the wishlist it goes!

    Reply

  2. kaggsysbookishramblings
    Aug 14, 2020 @ 10:39:34

    I haven’t read any Croatian lit, Stu, and this sounds really good – I’ll look out for it!

    Reply

  3. Trackback: That was the month that was August 2020 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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